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By Ather Fawaz
NASA approves SpaceX and the Crew Dragon for regular crewed missions to the ISS
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA/SpaceX It has been a big year so far for SpaceX. Back in May, its Crew Dragon spacecraft completed its first manned voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). With Elon Musk accrediting Starship as the top priority for the company, the famed project has also picked up pace. So has the Starlink initiative, with its recent expansion to include more beta customers. The firm is also gearing up for Dragon's second manned mission, Crew-1, to the ISS in a few days as well. Amidst all this, it has now finally gained NASA's approval that it has been striving towards with the Commercial Crew program.
The approval came after NASA signed the Human Rating Certification Plan for SpaceX’s crew transportation system yesterday. The signing was completed after conducting a thorough flight readiness review ahead of the agency’s Crew-1 mission, with astronauts onboard, to the space station. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commended the success of the Commercial Crew Program and the achievements of both companies, stating:
The founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk marked it as an honor and a motivating force in the company's vision to make flights to the Moon and Mars a reality:
This is a milestone for both companies. For SpaceX, this system of the Crew Dragon plus the Falcon 9 rocket along with the associated ground systems is the first to be NASA-certified for regular manned flights since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago. This obviously means that SpaceX's hefty investment in the Commercial Crew program has paid off. For NASA, this is the first time that the agency has certified a commercial spacecraft system in history that is capable of transporting humans to and from the ISS. This directly means that astronauts can regularly make trips to the ISS to and from American soil, which could be a vital step towards commercializing space flights.
SpaceX's Starlink internet beta expands to more customers, and it's expensive
by João Carrasqueira
SpaceX, the space exploration company owned by Elon Musk, has been working on its satellite-based internet service, Starlink, for a few years now, but it's taken some time for it to come to fruition. Today, the company is inviting customers to test the service in what it calls the "Better Than Nothing Beta", as reported by CNBC.
The name of the test program doesn't lie, and SpaceX is fairly upfront about what users are signing up for, telling users that it's "trying to lower" their initial expectations. The company says users can expect to see speeds varying from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency ranging from 20ms to 40ms over the next few months, as it continues to improve the system. At times, it's possible that service won't be available at all.
On top of the spotty internet service, the initial Starlink price is not for the faint of heart. Customers need to buy the Starlink kit to get set up, which includes a terminal to connect to the satellite network, a Wi-Fi router, and a mounting tripod. That costs $499, and on top of that, the service itself costs $99 per month. To help users get set up, a Starlink app is now available for Android and iOS, meant to help users find the best place to install the terminal, check for obstructions, and more.
Naturally, this isn't something that's meant for everyone to subscribe to just yet, and it remains to be seen how things will look when the service is fully available. On that note, the description for the app mentioned above says that this beta program will enable service in the United States and Canada this year, with near global coverage being attainable in 2021. Of course, that too is yet to be seen.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for Crew Dragon's second manned voyage to the ISS next month
by Ather Fawaz
SpaceX Crew-1. Image via SpaceX/NASA SpaceX and NASA are preparing to launch the Crew Dragon's second manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) next month. Dubbed Crew-1, the private spaceflight will be ferrying astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi to the space station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Weather permitting and barring unforeseen circumstances, the Crew Dragon will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:49 PM EST (0049 GMT) on Saturday, November 15.
Although the companies planned to launch this mission back in August initially, they have faced numerous delays. Last week, NASA announced that they were considering a launch window sometime early to mid-November. November 15 falls within that period, and it will be less than six months after the Dragon's first voyage to the ISS back in May this year. The latest delay, NASA stated, was to provide "additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt".
Image via NASA Commercial Crew (Twitter) Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28, 4 PM EDT, teams managing the Crew-1 mission will hold a media teleconference to get the media and the general public up to speed with what's in store for next month's launch. They will also be discussing results from the recent testing of Falcon 9 Merlin engines that have caused the latest delay. For those interested, you can join the live teleconference here.
By Ather Fawaz
SpaceX reveals further details for its spaceport in Texas
by Ather Fawaz
Image via SpaceX(Twitter) Back in June, we received confirmation from SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk that the company is building a floating spaceport for space travel and hypersonic flights around the Earth. The floating spaceport would be built from refurbished oil platforms, will house a hyperloop for transportation to and from the land, and will be based in Boca Chica, Texas. Now, we have more details about the project.
As spotted by Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) from CNBC, a new job posting by SpaceX for a 'Resort Development Manager' at Brownsville, Texas, deems the future spaceport at the Boca Chica Village in Texas as a "21st-century Spaceport” and the company’s first resort. Before enlisting the key responsibilities expected of a resort development manager, the company states:
Judging from this and the fact that Starship is now the major focal point of SpaceX's efforts, development and construction for the spaceport have picked up the pace. Just recently, the SN5 prototype for Starship completed a liftoff and landing sequence as part of a test. Though Musk stated that it will be at least a further two to three years before any complete test flights commence.
By Ather Fawaz
SpaceX achieves major milestones on Falcon 9's 12th launch of the year
by Ather Fawaz
GIF via TechCrunch SpaceX's latest launch had a lot of firsts. On Monday, July 20, Falcon 9 took flight for the 12th time this year. At 05:30 PM EDT, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, it began its journey with ANASIS-II onboard, which became South Korea's first military satellite in space following successful deployment.
On this mission, the Falcon 9 rocket used the same boosters that were used less than two months ago in Crew Dragon's maiden manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS). To be exact, a period of 51 days separates the Dragon's test flight and Monday's launch, making it the fastest turnaround time for a rocket booster in history. The previous record was held by NASA's Atlantis space shuttle, which turned around in 54 days. In spite of this impressive feat, SpaceX is pushing to further reduce this turnaround time to a matter of days instead of weeks.
Image via SpaceX This recycling and reusing of rocket boosters is a way for SpaceX to cut costs, essentially recovering machinery worth millions of dollars with each launch. Still, the founder and CEO of the firm, Elon Musk, wants to further maximize this. And Monday's launch did exactly that.
For the first time, SpaceX was able to recover both fairing halves on the Falcon 9. This fairing is essentially a two-piece protective cover encapsulating the payload on the rocket as it pushes through Earth’s atmosphere before entry into space. After they have served their purpose, the two halves dislodge from the spacecraft and end up in a water body on Earth.
SpaceX caught and retrieved the two fairing halves using two ships accoutered with special nets, Musk announced in a tweet. Of course, this in addition to SpaceX successfully landing the Falcon 9's boosters back on a landing pad to retrieve them as well.
The estimated savings from the fairing's retrieval alone amount up to $6 million. Furthermore, SpaceX is looking into potentially modifying the netted ships to catch the Crew Dragon bringing astronauts back to the Earth in the future as well. Historically, astronauts have to be collected from an ocean, and thus, immediate retrieval via the modified ships could be a promising safety improvement to the procedure.